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Care for children's teeth from an early age


A child's first teeth appear from the age of six months. These first teeth are very important. If they are allowed to decay and be lost early in life the child will not eat properly, and the second (permanent) teeth may come out crooked.

Feeding of the child and dental health Good feeding habits for children should start as soon as they are born. Remember, breast milk is best for your child.

However, if you cannot breast feed because of ill health or some other reason, make sure you prepare the correct milk for the child. Ask your clinic for advice if you are not sure how to prepare the child's milk.

Healthy food is important for the health of the whole family. Every part of the body, including the teeth is affected by what you eat. This is more so for the child who is still growing. Healthy food means food that has proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins in the right amounts.


The most common cause of early tooth decay in babies is sweetened and sugary drinks given in the bottle. Foods like cakes, sweets, ice cream etc and other drinks containing sugar also cause tooth decay.

The sugar that is left to stay on the teeth is turned into acid by the germs that are in the mouth. This acid then eats away the teeth.

Take care:

Do not let your baby go to sleep with the bottle in the mouth, especially if the bottle contains milk or some sweetened drink! This is the most common cause of dental decay in children.

It is not easy to deprive children of sweet things completely, but the more often these sweet and sugary foods are eaten the more harm is done to the teeth. Therefore, sweet foods and drinks should be eaten during mealtimes, and not right through the day. Children can be taught to develop a taste for foods that do not contain sugar: if they get hungry between meals give them fruit or other food that has no sugar.


How soon can a child's teeth be cleaned?
When the child is still without teeth or is less than a year old, you can use a piece of cotton wool or clean cloth to clean the mouth. When the child is a year old, you can use a small toothbrush made for children, and warm water to clean the teeth.

As soon as the child gets used to the brush, you can introduce fluoride toothpaste, which will help to prevent tooth decay - use a very small amount, the size of a pea, because babies like to swallow toothpaste.

Brush in the morning and at night. Another good time to clean children's teeth is during bath time, so that they can develop the habit of washing their bodies and cleaning their teeth.

Brushing children's teeth is not easy.
Try this: Sit down on the floor on a chair, and then put your child's head on your lap, facing up. If the child is standing, have his/her back to you with the head tilted slightly and resting on your body. Start brushing his/her teeth.

Clean the teeth two at a time using the method shown below. When you are not sure how to do it, ask your dentist, oral hygienist or dental therapist to show you how. Do this when you take the child for the dental check up.


1) Starting at the back, brush two teeth at a time with round (circular) movements
2) Do the same for the inside of the teeth


3) Brush the chewing part of the teeth with back and forth movements. Do this for the upper and lower teeth. 4) Brush the front upper and lower teeth with short strokes. Do not forget to gently brush the tongue.

Brush in the morning and at night. Another good time to clean children's teeth is during bath time, so that they can develop the habit of washing their bodies and cleaning their teeth.



Shouid children have their teeth checked by a dentist even if there is no pain?

Yes! It is good for children to have their teeth checked regularly, before problems start. This will help the child to get used to the visit to the dentist without any fear. Taking the child to the dentist when there is pain causes children to develop a fear for the dentist.

It is important that the child be checked so that the dentist can be able to see if there is early decay of the teeth to treat them in time.

When taking children to the clinic for a health check up, make sure you also take them for a dental check up.

Source: Department: Health - Republic of South Africa

  Article Date: 24 October 2006


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